The New iPhone is Coming; the New iPhone is Coming…Who Cares?

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TBM3After months of rumors, blurry pictures of prototype cases (or someone’s old loafer) it appears that Apple is going to introduce a new iPhone model and I see little reason for all this excitement.

Okay, give me a few minutes before you grab your torches and pitchforks. The iPhone is a fine smartphone. It has a nice web browser, allows you to play Angry Birds and even allows you to download a slew of apps that let you pretend it’s used for serious work. I even heard that some Verizon customers actually use it successfully for phone calls.

This year’s model will probably be lighter, thinner, have a bigger screen, run a little faster and maybe even have a better camera. Nice features, but hardly a reason to camp out at your local mall. What makes an iPhone special is the operating system (iOS). Apple is set to release the latest iteration of iOS sometime in mid-October. Because of the developer beta releases we all know most of the new features. That operating system will run on an iPhone 4 and even the two-year-old iPhone 3GS.

Over on the Android side of things it’s even worse. About twice a week, Samsung, HTC, or Motorola announces another phone that looks pretty much like the last phone. It’s then given about 12 different names by the various carriers. Sure, there are differences. Some have bigger screens, some have keyboards that slide out, some are a bit faster, they all play Angry Birds, and some even make phone calls.

Google also has a new operating system coming out; they’re calling it “Ice Cream Sandwich”. If nothing else, this is proof that we have run out of good names for our technology projects. Unlike Apple though, Google and its phone manufacturing partners and carriers like to make the upgrade process much more of a mystery.

We seem to be stuck in the same place that the PC industry has lingered for about a decade. The phones all pretty much lookalike, and even with the various operating systems they all basically work alike. After waiting months, standing in line for hours and spending hundreds of dollars you end up realizing you’re still playing Angry Birds and hoping your phone call goes through.

While the operating systems are incrementally getting better there’s little to get excited about. C’mon while iOS 5’s new notification system is certainly welcome…it’s hardly a game changer.

So, I’ve decided to make a short list of what I’d like to see in the next generation of mobile phones and phone services:

  1. Screens – I’m tiring of peering at tiny screens, zooming in, zooming out and sliding back and forth. Let’s start projecting that display out to nearby TVs, computer monitors, car navigations screens…or my windshield for that matter. Sure, there are times when you want to use the smaller, more private screens, but most of the time we find ourselves near a bigger display unit. I know someone may suggest holographic imaging, but I’m going to save that for my list in 2016.
  2. Battery Life – Yes, I know it’s getting better, but I still have to carry a charger around…and for every improvement in battery size there’s a new feature to drain it even faster. In the old days our home phones didn’t require a “wall wart” or battery and were able to live off the power that came over the phone line. I’m thinking it’s time for the carriers to come up with a way to send a few amps along with those text messages.
  3. Too many radios – My current phone has a GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, 2G, 3G and 4G radios inside. They’re now starting to include NFC (near field communications) in the devices. Multiple radios means added complexity and added battery drain. Let’s cut this down and speed the whole lot of it up.
  4. Text input – Fix it. I’m tired of typing on glass, or tiny keyboards. All of the auto-correction systems should be renamed “auto-aggravation” . Voice input works sometimes, but generally leads to frustration and the utterance of a few words that seem not to be in the device’s dictionary. There’s got to be a better way.
  5. Phone Size – Remember when the hottest phone on the market was the Motorola StarTac and even better the Razr. I know that some consider their phone a fashion accessory…to me it’s just pocket ballast. The smaller and lighter the better. I guess I’m one of the few that liked flip phones. Perhaps something similar in style to the old Treo 300 would be possible.
  6. Phone Call Quality – For many decades after Alexander Graham Bell (or Antonio Meucci if you prefer) the quality of phone calls improved. By the 1970s you could actually hold a comfortable conversation over the device and there was really no such thing as a dropped call. When cell phones were introduced things were a bit dicey at first, but we’re now almost 40 years out from the first mobile phone and things aren’t getting much better. It’s time garbled voices and dropped calls become history.

Motorola gave us mobile phones, Handspring, Palm, RIM and a few others bumped us to the next level and then Apple and Google made smartphones more than email or texting devices. Who’s next? Can Microsoft re-enter the contest after years of sub-par products?

Better yet, maybe a couple of people will meet in line at the Apple Store, grab a napkin and start to design a revolutionary mobile communications and computing device. Just make sure it plays Angry Birds too.

20 thoughts on “The New iPhone is Coming; the New iPhone is Coming…Who Cares?”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. +100 on the battery life. They could make the iPhone 3mm thicker and use it all for battery.

    I’d add a simple belt clip mechanism. The old Blackberries clicked perfectly into their holsters and I recall that Siemens had a neat clip that locked into one of their models to hold it in a belt clip. I don’t want to wrap my phone in a plastic/rubber/leather/neoprene case and sometimes I just want to clip it to my belt but use it in it’s naked stake as God intended.

  3. One thing Apple should be credited for is understanding the need for good battery life. If you look at the insides of an iPhone or iPad they really are a very small circuit board enveloped by a giant battery. Apple does a far better job of managing battery life than Android.

  4. My conclusion is that the phone world is a mess with hardware, OS, software and feature releasecycles that cannot be understood by a normal living being.

    I would say that the iPhone is the most solid and future-proof investment while the Android manufacturers are making the real mess.

    In your article you state that Android has run out of good names. But the nice thing about it is that they follow the alphabet using desert names. So they have still 17 letters to go…

  5. Ken – I’m sure you’re right about Apple’s power management, but as a relative newcomer to smartphones I find the iPhone nostalgic. It takes me back to the 1990s where one constantly worried about lack of signal and, once a signal was found the next problem was having enough battery life left to make a call! Moving from a Nokia E52 (battery life? Dunno – I don’t really remember having to charge it!) to an iPhone was one helluva shock.

    If I need to stay in touch or I’m going to be away from power or out in the sticks then I take the Nokia cos the iPhone just doesn’t cut it. I wonder how much more standby and talk time they could get for a 3mm thicker phone.

  6. @RL – I’m not sure if any of them are future proofed. I’m really not thrilled with the way Apple cuts devices out of updates after basically two generations. Not because I believe they have to support them with new features, but someone using an iPod Touch 2G should still receive security updates and bug fixes. The same goes for the mess of Android phones. When you consider the true price of many of these phones and tablets they’re on par or more expensive than many PCs and notebooks…yet Microsoft and Apple will support those operating systems for many years. In Microsoft’s case they’re still supporting Windows XP over 10 years after launch.

  7. Who cares about articles written by Ken Schoenberg. He sounds like one of those elitest opinionated technologists that writes articles on the backend of the internet. The phone only has set a high standard of customer service, battery life, with 100 million phones projected to be sold in 2010, but it is more than not the phone that Android users trade up for. Ken, pitchforks at the ready.

  8. Elitist? Nahh…Opinionated? Aren’t we all. Technologists? Not exactly what that is. I enjoy technology been working with computers since 1975. Much of it is pretty neat stuff that has improved our lives. A lot of it has done little but improve some company’s bottom-line.
    As for the rest of your comment…did you read the whole article? I believe that the Android phones are guilty of the same issues I have with the iPhone.
    Why is everyone so sensitive? it’s a phone/computer not a religion or a family member. All of the manufacturers can do better…a lot better.

    Oh, and as for who cares about my articles…well, my wife tends to like them…but even she won’t camp out overnight to get one. 🙂

  9. Ken,

    The only thing I have an issue with your contradiction of wanting bigger (or alternate) screens and smaller devices. There are quite a few Android phones with larger than 4″ screens (and the ill fated Dell Streak was even larger). If the iPad 2 has airplay mirroring in iOS5, I’d guess that feature could come to the iPhone 4S/5 too given its pedigree.

    The phone size grows and shrinks with the screen size. The iPhone 4 is actually thinner than a razr… (.37″ v .54″) and only a little taller, so there’s not a whole lot of room to get smaller.

    And my last little bit is that if you want a better typing mechanism, smaller is the last place you want to be (did you see the HP Veer? unusable keyboard)

    Ultimately though, we all have our dream device and the iPhone 4S/5 probably won’t be it if the current crop of smartphones hasn’t done it for you yet.

  10. John,
    It’s not so much that I want a bigger screen. I want devices to use other resources around them to better the experience. Sure, there are times when it’s just us and our phones, but for many of us…we’re constantly in the presence of a bigger display and better input device. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had the option of having your phone display on the notebook or desktop monitor…a nearby HDTV, GPS screen, etc? Maybe the same functionality for nearby keyboards, mice, etc.

    I think the display stuff will be easier to solve than the input problems. Right now we’re shrinking down a very inefficient QWERTY keyboard.

    I’m thinking that a symbolic language might be a possibility. Anyone that used a Palm remembers Graffiti…perhaps that can be taken further and a system that utilizes symbols for words or phrases can be easily adapted and utilized. I can see the verbal interfaces also getting better, but that’s really limited as its hard to use them when you’re not alone.

    I don’t foresee any of my list getting solved right away…but should someone do it…then I’ll be waiting on line.

  11. Android will probably be the place to get your phone display on another screen – it seems like Google’s apps do a lot of crosstalk already (although not in a windows view like I imagine you’re suggesting). I think proximity based keyboards, etc would be more of a challenge (when is your keyboard closer to the phone or PC if it’s on the same desk?). But I don’t think the market is really there yet – the Atrix hasn’t done so well as far as I know (cost prohibitive?) Pioneer has a stereo that mimics the iPhone screens for input, a few inches bigger and slightly simplified for driving functionality.

    QWERTY is as QWERTY does – it is, and probably will be, the standard until we reach Star Trek PADD & LCARS advancements (well, LCARS anyway…iPad is a PADD). The concept of interface design and language will have to evolve with each generation of touchscreen devices (and tablets will probably drive that evolution)

    I think all that’s holding back these advancements is the creativity of the engineers and programmers. We definitely have all of the technology needed to implement them.

  12. This article has some very valid points. And, let’s face it, even “average” smartphones are pretty darn amazing. In my opinion, the smartphone is the ONE device that has surpassed the predicted technological advancements promised by the sci-fi writers of yesteryear. As a sidenote, platform loyalty is NOT a religion. Athough that didn’t keep one potential business partner from trying to stomp off from a business meeting (yeah, iPhone user).

  13. 1 and 4 seem to contradict each other. You want a smaller phone but bigger screen? BTW, you can already project onto nearby devices with Android (there’s a few PC/Android apps that work that way). I’m not sure if iPhone has something similar but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

    2. Without a massive change in battery tech I don’t know how this will happen without making bigger batteries. Better screens like the ones Samsung is making (AMOLED’s) is a good start though.

    3. The idea of less radios is nice, but first, you need the cross compatibility for alot of things and second, they don’t actually use that much battery. If you’ve ever looked at a battery graph, it’s the display that uses 80%-90%+ of the battery (this is my Galaxy S, which I use constantly with wifi/3G internet and games and get about 16 hours of use out of till flat. Without constant screen use, it gets a few days before needing a charge. Almost as much as the old Nokias with the monochrome screens.

    4. The voice input on the Galaxy S is actually superb. It gets it right almost all the time. But the thing is, even with perfect recognition, you don’t want to be speaking to your phone in public. That’s sometimes why you text, so you don’t share everything with the other people on the train. And it’s why I hope this new “assistent” feature on the iPhone isn’t that, because even if flawless, it will fail for this reason. Swype is actually a fantastic text input method once you are used to it. Give it a try if you haven’t. I think they are still trying to get Apple to play with them, but it’s free on Android. And Google just bought blindtype, which will be nice assuming it works as promised.

    6. I’m not sure if this is a phone issue (except for the “non-existent” iPhone 4 issue of course), I thought it was more a carrier/capacity issue?

  14. First off, I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of Android bashing. That’s not because Apple makes bad products (they tend to be really good), but because I believe there is viable competition out there.

    Also, the way a normal person (i.e., not us technogeeks) is: go to store, find best phone that fits budget, and buy. The fact that phones get better at a pace that is hard to keep track of is not a problem that we need to solve.

    Addressing the points one-by-one:

    1) It’s getting there. We already have display mirroring via HDMI out on our phones. DLNA is growing in the marketplace, and I expect we’ll see mirroring via WiFi soon enough. I’m not sure how Intel’s WiDi is faring.

    2) Battery is good on most models and getting better. My Android phone gets two days of use without charging, and, if necessary, I can swap the battery in seconds (if you don’t count the couple of minutes to reboot).

    3) Yeah, there are a lot of radios, and I’m not happy about some of the new ones they are introducing. On the plus side, I can enable and disable the radios at will with a simple tap (no having to dig through menus). Yeah, it’s user management, but if I don’t generally use Bluetooth, then I have no problem taking a fraction of second to toggle it on and off.

    4) Swype-type systems are really quite good … some of the time. (Configuration plays into it a lot.) Plus, I can easily associate with a Bluetooth keyboard. Or I could have purchased a phone with a physical keyboard. At the end of the day, though, you are right that phones aren’t ready for massive amounts of input.

    5) As someone else pointed out, phones are really small. I like the folding phones, too, but things like Gorilla Glass go a long way to protecting the device. Plus, I’m not willing to give up screen real estate.

    6) Call quality is a huge issue that seems to fall behind coverage density. Even with the new networks (such as LTE) they just leave voice out of the initial deployment. That’s crazy!

  15. @Logan/Vaughan

    I’m not suggesting you are wrong, but I’m looking for jumps (think wired network to wireless innovation) rather than
    While some of what I’m talking about is possible to sort of create working models today. In general I’m looking for faster and more seamless connections.

    For instance. Used to be to get two devices to talk with each other you would use some kind of proprietary cable and have to have proprietary software running on both machines. The next step was a standardization on a serial cable and maybe only having to have that software running on one machine. Then along came wired networks, then faster wired networks, then wireless networks, then WiFi/Bluetooth/NFC. The next jump is and will it be used for data transfer, display and command input/output. I’ll pick on Bluetooth. It’s a beginning but it’s slow, takes too long to connect, and insecure. NFC solves part of that, but isn’t means yet for the type of data necessary for display.

    1. When I say display projection, I’m not talking about running a cable nor even taking over the whole display. Oh, and while they’re at it…figure out a way for fingerprints and smears not to exist. 🙂

    2. Battery technology has been an anchor on mobile devices for a long time. So, let’s move around it and instead of trying to hold energy that we use a myriad of relatively inefficient chargers to port to these devices…create it at the point of consumption while at the other time reduce that consumption dramatically. That’s why I suggest that maybe the wireless signal could also transport a charge…or a device within the phone could create (transform is probably a better work) the energy from a wireless signal. Think of the difference between the power usage in calculators in the 1970s and today. Many contain very small batteries and use light to energy conversion. I know, that’s not going to happen this year, but…

    3.Displays use the most power in phones today, but radios use quite a bit (comparatively) and even more when they’re in use…except if you start looking at a device like the Kindle. In that case its the radio that uses more power than the display.

    4. I’ve used voice recognition on Android and it’s not bad until you try it in a noisy environment. But we’ve all touched on its limitations. I’ve tried Swype…and don’t find it all that much faster. It’s still the pretty much the same motions on the same keyboards. If we’re going to learn new ways to work with the same keyboard design…why not learn a new keyboard too? Think rotary dial vs. touch tone jumps in input speed. This is going to be the toughest of my requests to correct because it requires human change and learning…and that can take a long time.

    5. Phone size doesn’t have to be tied to screen size. A 50-inch TV from 10 years ago is quite a bit bigger and heavier than one today…so the technology can grow more efficient and smaller. Also, take a look at pico projectors…they can be many times smaller than what they’re displaying. There are various ways of creating a bigger display and/or input areas without increasing the main unit by the same amount. Some methods save size others might shave weight. Projection and folding are two possibilities.

    Remember I’m talking about stuff that will make me want to camp out overnight in a mall parking lot to purchase and while some suggest that I’m saying their current brand of technology isn’t good. I’m not…but I want better…lots better.

  16. I’m considering switching to Android (out of slight boredom with iOS), however, there are a few things I’m concerned about:

    1. I have a lot of Google and Exchange calendars. They all show up in iOS’ iCal app seamlessly, but I’ve read that on Android I would need to use two different apps (such as Touchdown).

    2. No integration with Things (OSX todo app).

    3. No equivalent to TopoMaps (USGS topo quads mapping app).

    4. Power management. I have many friends and coworkers with Android phones and they have to turn brightness down, turn off GPS, etc. A couple of them run task killers, but they have found those can cause even more problems. I don’t want to deal with charging/carrying a spare battery (I did this with my old Axim X50v and it was a PITA).

    Any suggestions for those?

    For now, I’m waiting to see what Apple produces with iPhone5 before deciding. Some Android devices are now as thin and light as the iPhone while also having a removable battery and larger screen. I don’t care about a removable battery, but since the iPhone doesn’t have one, it should be even thinner and lighter and/or have more WHr. Likewise, I was fine with a 3.5″ screen when devices with 4.3″ screens weighed 6+ ounces, but now that they’re as light as (or lighter than) the iPhone, Apple needs to increase its screen size.

  17. @deslock

    1) Integration with Android is fantastic (from a software standpoint). My Google, Exchange, and Facebook contacts and calender all appear seamlessly where I expect them. We even write our own custom application at work that adds contacts, calenders, and allows custom searches.

    That being said, I’ve heard that solid exchange support is spotty. I don’t know, it all just works on my phone (and we’re running an old Exchange server that isn’t really supported) thanks to the manufacturer.

    2) Things appears to be very Mac specific. There might be something you could do with the iCal integration, but I wouldn’t count on it. I use Google Calendar entries under a custom calendar (you can have more than one), but that may not be robust enough for you.

    3) I’m not sure about topographic maps, but a quick Google search brings up Backcountry Navigator and MyTracks as possible options.

    4) Task killers are evil. Playing with brightness is silly as almost all devices include a light sensor, and the GPS doesn’t run unless something specifically requests it (so shutting it off won’t change anything). The reason you find a lot of people playing with these settings is because you can with Android, it’s easy, and Android people tend to be fiddlers. I generally rely on the talk time and standby time as good indicators of whether or not the device will meet my needs.

    Apple makes some great products, but, as far as I’m concerned, Apple is like Sony; a good manufacturer that makes above-average products but not necessarily the best products or the best value. Do your research and then decide if Apple is the right choice.

    PS: I would think anyone looking to use their phone for topographical maps would see immediate value in having at least one spare battery, seeing as how you are likely away from electricity for long periods of time.

  18. One of the nice things about Android is that you can search and read the reviews of all of the apps on the web here. There are also several other app stores (Amazon, GetJar). You are also able to buy an app and return it within 30 minutes for a full refund. While there aren’t always exact app for apps matches I can tell you that there are over 300 apps on my iPad and I have found a match or close equivalent for everyone on my Android devices.

    There is no need for a Task Killer with Android since version 2.2.
    As Logan stated the only reason they’re around is because you can easily see the runnig tasks with Android. iOS hides that data, but anyone that has jailbroken has seen there are just as many tasks running.

    There are many different Android phones…if battery life is important I’d read the reviews. I don’t carry an extra battery with my G2 and have never run dry. The nice thing about having a removable battery is that you can replace it when it gets worn OR purchase a larger capacity battery that fits the same space.

  19. @Logan Kennelly

    Thanks for the reply.

    1) A couple IT people I work with unsuccessfully tried configuring both Exchange and Google calendars to work on the calendar app, so unless ICS fixes this, it looks like I’m SOL (unless I decide to put up with running multiple calendar apps).

    2) I’d have to use an alternative to Things (I just haven’t found one as feature-rich).

    3) BackCountry Navigator is pricey, but looks like it’ll do the trick (I don’t think that app existed when I last looked for Android topo apps). Thanks for mentioning it!

    4) My friend who turns down his brightness is the most capable IT techie I know… he finds that the light sensor makes it bright enough to wear down the battery too fast (he said the screen typically eats over 60% of his battery). The users who tried task killers were doing it not because they could, but simply because they were trying anything that might improve battery life. They stopped using the task killers after having issues. That one of my Android-using-friends keeps his GPS off surprised me… the process he went through to enable it wasn’t especially cumbersome, but it seemed inconvenient between that and how long it took to attain a lock.

    P.S. When I hike, I don’t keep the GPS app running the whole time. I just open it periodically to check my progress/location. I’ve never had battery life issues using it like that.

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